Friday, November 29, 2013

I'm History--Van Dyke Parks New Single by Peter Reum

This month, Van Dyke Parks continues the productive pattern of releasing his new music as singles this month with a gorgeous new pair of tracks that offer a chance to see what is on his mind musically and lyrically. The "A" side, I'm History, presents a series of noble musings about the period from John F. Kennedy presidency to the present day. The grief many of us felt when that promising era was cut short is revisited, with a lovely syncopated track highlighted by beautiful accordian, flute, strings, and backing vocals recalling Discover America. I'm History is a track that has been in the works for a number of years, and a live version is available on youtube here...

The hallowed halls of government (or Venice CA 1903)

Van Dyke Parks Loves L.A....

The lyrics to I'm History are suitably  Parksian in their content. There are double entendres, puns, and a rough narrative forward of the 50 years since the assassination of Kennedy. I'm History tees off on several targets, especially Wall Street, Biblical Fundamentalists, and Tea Partiers. Parks makes the point that all things pass, and as a nation we will be judged by how we treated those of us who are homeless, elderly, children, and have disabilities. It is apparent that he is frustrated in his inability to communicate with Biblical Literalists, and he laments fundamentalists basing their Christian beliefs on The Old Testament.

The Maestro Himself With Inara George

The Maestro Circa 1968

The second tune, Charm School, is a lovely instrumental recalling Clang of the Yankee Reaper. Timbales, steel pans, guitar, and violins are mixed in a tropical gumbo that only Parks can concoct. The tune recalls some of the music Van Dyke has composed for cinema, and one can easily visualize credits to a tropically based comedic farce rolling over the music here. At times the guitar almost recalls the Rockford Files Theme. If you love Parks, his last album (Songs Cycled), or are curious about his work, this is as good a beginning as you will find. If you don't know where to buy the single, bug Van Dyke at go to ITunes, or listen on Spotify.

Text Copyright by Peter Reum 2013-All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Death of American Naivety (and Heroes) by Peter Reum

There are a handful of news reports in my life that have frozen me where I stood and provoked complete disbelief. Fifty years ago, I was a sixth grade student and another student ran up to me and told me that President Kennedy had been assassinated. It burned my ears like no event ever had. In listening to PBS today, I was once again reunited with people my age and older who were much younger then, when we still believed that government's motive was the betterment of the American people. In Cold War Los Alamos, New Mexico, we were used to bomb drills, secrecy, and the idea of keeping the world safe from the Communists. President Kennedy's rhetoric matched the Soviet Union's as the two rivals careened through the Sixties, oblivious to almost anything else except each other. John Kennedy had visited Los Alamos the previous December, and half the town covered the high school football field to hear his remarks.  He had come to hear about a classified nuclear rocket engine that would enable interplanetary travel in the future.

President Kennedy, December 7, 1962 with Dr, Norris Bradbury (left), and Dr. Glenn Seaborg (right)

After the assassination's verification, for roughly 72 hours, the tempo of the town stopped dead, as it did in most communities around the country.  The drama played out in an almost Shakespearean manner, with the accused assassin being apprehended after shooting a police officer, further compounding the tragedy. We witnessed the deplaning of the Air Force One passengers and crew, the unloading of Kennedy's casket, and the minute by minute commentary by talking heads on television. The tragedy was extended when a Dallas nightclub owner shot the accused assassin in front of millions of viewers that November weekend. We had been fast forwarded into the era of mass media reality television without realizing it happened. 

You may view an 11 minute Los Alamos National Laboratory Video of President Kennedy's visit to Los Alamos National Laboratory and excerpts from his speech at Los Alamos High School Football Field here:

In Los Alamos, even though later accountings of Kennedy's Los Alamos visit revealed that he was deeply skeptical of nuclear weapons and their utility in international relations between superpowers, and felt that  the "Los Alamos longhairs" were out of touch with reality as Kennedy viewed it (see below), we deeply mourned a man who had recognized our patriotism, sacrifice, and contributions to American Life. Through the years that followed, details of Kennedy's sex life emerged, and his star stopped shining the way it had for a few years after his murder. Kennedy's trip to Los Alamos placed him in a unique esteem that still is held today by many of us who had never been that close to a sitting U.S. President before the amazing day he came to visit us.

A part of us as a nation also died that day. Kennedy was a man of privilege, well educated, impeccably dressed, Ivy League educated, and quite young compared to his predecessors. Many authors have made the point that he was the first of the generation that served in World War II to be elected President. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, also was in Los Alamos that day in December, 1962, and was relegated to a minor supporting role. Despite that fact, Johnson subsequently held Los Alamos in high esteem, and gave us the chance to own our homes and modify them, after having paid rent to the US Government since 1943. But President Johnson  was a different man, older, with a Texas twang that most New Mexicans found objectionable. Texan jokes were de rigeur in New Mexico. It was as if we had our national leadership had morphed from an urbane, witty "modern" guy to a countrified rancher who flashed people with his gall bladder operation scar.

For the Kennedys, the mantle of leadership shifted to Robert F. Kennedy. For Los Alamos, the Cold War was a bonanza for every sort of defense technology the "longhairs" could envision. Los Alamos became the preeminent place for most of the future defense needs of our country. The assassinations continued, and the Vietnam War became a form of national quicksand which destroyed our national unity. There was no chance of restoring the faith in government that the Kennedy Era had ushered in. As his star became tarnished, it was almost as if we accepted the premise that heroism was temporary,and subject to a form of investigative journalism designed to find every hero's unsavory past. Worse yet, we relegated the assumption of honesty in our public servants to the ash heap. The Watergate Era let every American see what had always been there, but had been off limits by common agreement between the Presidents and the Press.....their private life.

When Kennedy's sexual addiction became well known, it was free range muckraking. Nothing began to surprise us as our heroes  became tarnished, slowly but surely, one at a time. We built people up, then tore them down. The list of true heroes has become quite a short list.....especially post Kennedy assassination. Two that come to mind are John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. Both of these men are direct products of Kennedy's Cold War goal of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon. Martin Luther King's legacy is another story closely intertwined with the Kennedys. Yet the press has exposed his sexual episodes with women outside of his marriage as well. The bar has been lowered to the point to where very few people want to seek public service as a career, except narcissists and sociopaths.

But....I remember December 7, 1962 as my one close encounter with a U.S. President, and although he was taken away prematurely, his presence that cold day in Los Alamos is something I will always treasure and remember.It was the biggest day of my nearly 10 year old life, and still thrills me to this day, 51 years later.

Note below: For some perspective on Kennedy's private reaction to his Los Alamos Laboratory visit, see the Kenneth O'Donnell and David Powers book on O'Donnell's years with John F. Kennedy-"Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye" Memories of John F. Kennedy (1972 Little Brown and Co.)

Text copyright 2013 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved